Bangor public servant Robinson Speirs dies

Posted May 26, 2009, at 8:32 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — For several decades, if an event needed to be organized in the city of Bangor, Robinson Speirs was among the first men called.

A lifelong resident of the Queen City, Speirs ran a family oil company for many years before making the transition into public service with stints on the Bangor zoning board of appeals and the City Council. Even long after he retired, Speirs remained active in numerous public endeavors, including the Katahdin Area Boy Scouts Council, Habitat for Humanity and All Souls Congregational Church.

Speirs died Monday at the age of 84.

“He always referred to himself as the quartermaster,” the Rev. James Haddix of All Souls said Tuesday, evoking the member of a military unit responsible for supplying fellow troops with supplies and provisions. “He was a wonderful organizer. People just responded to him so well.”

Speirs was born in 1925 in Bangor, attended city public schools and enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after graduating from high school. He served for three years as a staff sergeant with the 86th Infantry Division in Germany during World War II.

When he returned, Speirs attended the University of Maine on the GI Bill and graduated with a degree in engineering physics. He married his wife, Elizabeth Harvey Higgins, during spring break in 1947.

Shortly after graduating from UMaine in 1949, Speirs joined his father and brother at Bacon & Robinson Co., an oil company that eventually was bought out by Dead River. But a 9-to-5 life was never enough for Speirs, according to those who know him.

“I knew him as a very precise businessperson and that’s something that served him well away from business, too,” said Nelson Durgin, director of the Phillips-Strickland House and Boyd Place in Bangor and a friend to Speirs since the late 1960s. “I always enjoyed working with him on committees and other things because he was always willing and able to accomplish things.”

Despite an obvious talent for public service, Speirs served just one term on the City Council.

“He was one of the most conscientious, hardworking councilors in my lifetime,” said current City Councilor Hal Wheeler. “I remember everyone was disappointed that he didn’t run for re-election, but he was not the type to advance his name or reputation. He was quiet, he did his homework, he studied the issues and he voted with a minimum amount of rhetoric. We should all strive for that.”

Mark Woodward, executive editor of the Bangor Daily News, covered the City Council as a news reporter in the 1970s and remembered Speirs as knowledgeable, patient and calm.

“He was a councilor others turned to for his opinion and counsel,” Woodward said Tuesday. “He thoroughly understood the complexities of city finance and was always accessible and willing to take the time to explain that process.”

His quiet demeanor seemed to serve him well behind the scenes. Speirs also was a trustee of the Bangor Water District and served on boards of the local YMCA and The Salvation Army and was involved for many years with the United Fund Campaign, now the United Way.

Durgin remembered honoring Speirs in 1999 with the Boy Scouts Distinguished Citizens Award.

“He was a former Scout himself,” Durgin said. “I think that’s something that he really enjoyed.”

Haddix described Speirs, who was a trustee and deacon at All Souls, as cross-generational.

“He did a lot of stuff I don’t even know about,” the pastor said. “But I’ll remember his quiet presence throughout the years and his big heart. He and [his wife] were role models for generations of people at the church.”

Speirs leaves behind his wife of 62 years, five children, 14 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Friday, May 29, at All Souls, followed by a reception in the church vestry.

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